Defending is one of the hardest skills to master in football.
While strikers can miss a plethora of chances and eventually grab a goal to snuff any negativity, defenders simply cannot put a foot wrong.
If they do, their mistakes are played on a loop for years, making the mastering of the defensive art incredibly difficult.
The role of a full-back is also arguably the toughest on the field. If you don’t have the stamina of a marathon runner, attacking prowess and defensive stability, you’re unlikely to reach the upper echelons of the sport.
But there have been a host of stars to have effectively mastered the defensive roles both in the centre and out on the flanks.
Over on Ranker, football fans have cast their votes to list the greatest defender of all-time, with over 135,000 votes cast.
We’ll run you through the top 50 below, with the likes of Javier Zanetti (55th), Marcel Desailly (58th), Rio Ferdinand (59th), John Terry (60th) Nemanja Vidic (64th) and Virgil van Dijk (65th) all missing out!
One of the best left-backs of the modern era and a Real Madrid legend.
A hugely talented right-back and one of the best in the world for a time, but the top 50?
48. Paul Breitner
A key man in Germany’s 1974 World Cup winning side, renowned for his defensive partnership with Franz Beckenbauer.
47. Riccardo Ferri
Despite having the unfortunate record of the most Serie A own goals, the Italian makes the cut. Interesting…
46. Antonio Cabrini
A Juventus legend and Italy’s left-back during their World Cup triumph in 1982.
45. Philipp Lahm
Possibly the greatest right-back of all-time, so why the German is lingering in 45th is a total mystery.
44. Miodrag Belodedici
You may never have heard of him, but the Romanian defender was a key man in European Cup wins or both Steaua Bucharest and Red Star Belgrade.
43. Karl-Heinz Schnellinger
Nicknamed ‘The Volkswagen’, the athletic German defender finished third in the Ballon d’Or rankings in 1962.
42. Jaap Stam
An absolute colossus of a defender, one capable of playing both centre-back and at full-back.
41. Andreas Brehme
A brilliant defender and the scorer of the winning goal in the 1990 World Cup final for Germany.
40. Carles Puyol
Possibly the greatest defender and captain in Barcelona’s history at 40th? Puyol should be way higher!
39. Tarcisio Burgnich
A top-class operator and the winner of four Serie A titles and two European Cups with Inter Milan.
38. Gary Neville
A ridiculously consistent defender and a mainstay in Sir Alex Ferguson’s greatest Manchester United teams.
37. Wim Suurbier
A brilliant wing-back in both the great Holland and Ajax teams during the 1970s.
36. Daniel Alves
A serial trophy winner and a Barcelona legend. Like Puyol, the Brazilian should be further up the list.
35. Hans-Peter Briegel
A hugely popular figure in German football and a very versatile player.
34. Roberto Carlos
That left foot alone warrants a high ranking, not to mention his success with Brazil and Real Madrid.
33. Paul Neal
A key man in helping Liverpool win eight First Division titles and four European Cups. Not bad going that.
32. Jurgen Kohler
Yet another World Cup-winning German defender. Die Mannschaft really have been magnificent on the international stage.
31. Morten Olsen
The only man to reach 100 caps for an international side as both a player and a manager – impressive stuff from the Dane.
30. Fabio Cannavaro
A Ballon d’Or winner at number 30? Guess the 2006 World Cup was just a dream then…
29. Roberto Rosato
Regarded as one of Italy and AC Milan’s greatest ever defenders.
28. Jamie Carragher
The Liverpool legend ahead of Terry, Ferdinand and Sol Campbell? Very interesting.
27. Thiago Silva
Still one of the best defenders on the planet to this very day, the PSG man has enjoyed a stellar career.
26. Carlos Alberto
Scorer of possibly the most famous World Cup final goal in 1970 for Brazil against Italy and an outrageously good right-back.
25. Marius Tresor
A true French legend and regarded by many as one of the greatest central defenders ever.
24. Giuseppe Bergomi
Yet another Italian defensive master, most fondly remembered for spending his entire glittering career with Inter Milan.
23. Alan Hansen
The rock at the back during Liverpool’s most successful era.
22. Nilton Santos
One of the first great wing-backs and part of Brazil’s World Cup winning sides of 1958 and 1962.
21. Claudio Gentile
The Italians keep on coming! A 1982 World Cup winner and a Juventus icon.
20. Sergio Ramos
Football’s pantomime villain and a serial trophy winner with Spain and Real Madrid. Surprising to see Ramos so far ahead of Puyol, though.
19. Manfred Kaltz
One of the Bundesliga’s greatest ever right-backs, making over 500 appearances for Hamburg.
The former Roma captain helped guide Brazil to World Cup glory in 1994, but surely Aldair belongs further down the list?
A fantastic defender – especially with Inter Milan – but a surprise to the Brazilian so high up on the list ahead of his countrymen Alberto, Alves and Santos.
16. Lilian Thuram
A World Cup winner, a Juventus legend and the proud owner of 142 caps for France. What a player!
15. Mauro Tassotti
One of the key components in AC Milan’s outrageous defensive lineups under Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello.
14. Fulvio Collovati
Italians and defensive greatness really go hand-in-hand, with Collovati the leader of the country’s 1982 World Cup-winning defence.
13. Gerard Pique
Pique ahead of Puyol and Ramos?! Wow. We know he’s been great – legendary, even – with Spain and Barcelona, but 13th seems a tad too high.
12. Alessandro Costacurta
Another cog in AC Milan’s defensive machine of the late 1980s and 1990s. Costacurta was almost too good at times and could play anywhere along the back-line – an iconic footballer.
11. Ruud Krol
A revolutionary player with those groundbreaking Holland and Ajax teams of the 1970s. There was nothing Krol couldn’t do on a football pitch.
10. Alessandro Nesta
Just so, so good. If any clip defines Nesta as a footballer, it’s that tackle on Lionel Messi when the Italian was at the ripe ol’ age of 36. A Rolls-Royce of a player.
9. Daniel Passarella
The captain of Argentina’s 1978 World Cup-winning side and was once the highest scoring defender in football history with 134 goals in 451 games – until Ronald Koeman came along.
8. Cesare Maldini
The father of Paolo and a sensational player. The Maldini family have defensive brilliance coursing through their veins.
7. Giacinto Facchetti
One of the great goal scoring full-backs, notching 75 in 643 official games for Inter Milan. Facchetti also finished second in the 1965 Ballon d’Or.
6. Frank Rjikaard
A world-class operator for Holland, Ajax and AC Milan, but the sixth greatest defender of all time? Rjikaard even spent a hefty chunk of his career playing in midfield!
5. Bobby Moore
Probably England’s greatest ever player. His tackles versus Brazil at the 1970 World Cup really are the stuff of legend.
The only player to feature in three consecutive World Cup finals, winning two of them (1994 and 2002) with Brazil. Possibly the finest attacking full-back of all-time, one that possessed the skill and flair of a winger.
3. Franz Beckenbauer
One of the greatest all-round footballers in history and the inventor of the modern sweeper role. A pioneer for the sport, winning the World Cup as both a player and manager with Germany.
2. Franco Baresi
They don’t make defenders quite like Baresi anymore. AC Milan’s captain of 15 years made defending at the highest level look like a stroll in the park.
1. Paolo Maldini
A clear and deserved winner. Maldini made playing both left-back and centre-back look effortlessly easy. He never put a foot wrong and we may never see a better defender than him for generations.
No fewer than 16 of the top 50 hail from Italy, a remarkable statistic.
The famous Catenaccio tactical system has really paid dividends down the years, but it’s impact has slightly dwindled in the modern era.
But even if it does resurge, we will probably never see defenders as good as Baresi and Maldini for many, many years.
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